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Friday, September 19, 2014
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Published: Monday, 1/6/2014

Register voters online

BLADE EDITORIAL

The Republican lawmakers who control the General Assembly have done their best (or worst) over the past few years to work to suppress the votes of Ohioans whom they disfavor. For the sake of variety, if nothing else, legislators of both parties can do something in 2014 that actually would encourage voting, while saving tax dollars and improving election security in the bargain.

A proposal that would accomplish all these things — enabling the state’s voters to register online — comes from a prominent Republican and the state’s chief election officer, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. Yet the legislature has shown little interest in his plan during the three years he has lobbied for it.

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In an essay this week for The Blade’s Pages of Opinion, Mr. Husted outlined his proposal. Voters who sought to register online would provide personal information — name, date of birth, driver’s license number, and partial Social Security number — that would be verified instantly with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ database. Any discrepancy in these data would block registration.

Secretary Husted observes that it can cost as much as a dollar more for a county board of elections to register a voter on paper than it would for that voter to register online. Over two years, he estimates, the savings to Ohio taxpayers could be as great as $3 million.

Registering online also would be quicker and more convenient for voters, encouraging more of them to do so. It would be less susceptible to clerical errors, improving the accuracy of voter records. And it would curb reliance on provisional ballots, which are used when local election boards challenge some voters’ registration information.

“I don’t know why this hasn’t gotten more traction in the General Assembly,” Mr. Husted told The Blade’s editorial board. Bills that would carry out his proposal are before the state House and Senate; they deserve prompt attention when lawmakers return this month.

Since 2012, more than 125,000 Ohio voters have changed their voting addresses online, without any breaches of data security. Such a system would work just as well for voter registration.

Some state lawmakers offer the excuse that any effort to expand the franchise in Ohio is an invitation to vote fraud. But Mr. Husted concluded last month, after an investigation he conducted, that online registration could have prevented 17 people who aren’t U.S. citizens from voting illegally in Ohio’s 2012 general election, and an additional 274 noncitizens from registering to vote. (Such cases represent a tiny fraction of the 5.6 million votes Ohioans cast in the 2012 election).

The secretary of state notes that 19 states already allow voters to register online, and many other states are considering the practice. The General Assembly’s torpor on this issue is causing Ohio to fall farther behind, even as the quality of the state’s voting processes is a contentious matter nationally, given Ohio’s importance in presidential elections.

Mr. Husted argues persuasively that online registration, as an essential element of a broader effort to modernize Ohio’s election system, would make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.” What part of that formula do state lawmakers have a problem with?



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